You might say former Juneau-Douglas High School baseball star Rob Conway took the Big 12 Conference by storm when he made his debut for the Iowa State Cyclones this February.
Conway, a junior who transferred to Iowa State from Mendocino College of Ukiah, Calif., earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors after his debut.
But he didn't stop there.
Now that the season is over, Conway led the Cyclones with 10 home runs and 54 RBIs, plus he hit .298 with 67 hits, 12 doubles and 33 runs scored. Conway also led Iowa State (19-37 this season) with 13 multi-RBI games.
``Right when I got to Iowa State I got comfortable,'' Conway said by phone from Charlotte, N.C., where he will play summer baseball for the Carolina Sox of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. ``They told me I was starting and I knew I had the position. I was surprised by my power numbers, though, because I never hit more than four homers in a season at Mendocino.''
Conway considers himself a third baseman, even though he played more games at shortstop this year. Conway played 29 games at short, 26 at third base and one as designated hitter, plus he missed a couple of games with a knee injury. Conway led the Cyclones in errors this season, with 21, but the vast majority came when he was playing shortstop ahead of a couple of teammates who weren't hitting.
``To be honest, I didn't feel comfortable at short,'' Conway said. ``Then, after I hyperextended my knee, I went back to third and I only had one error after that. At third, I'm really comfortable.''
``Defensively he's one of our better third basemen,'' Iowa State coach Lyle Smith said. ``Most of his errors occurred at shortstop when he had difficulty adjusting to the different angle and longer throw.''
Conway spent last summer playing for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in the Alaska League, a team then coached by his Mendocino College coach Kevin Smallcomb, and it was that connection that helped Conway land at Iowa State. Terry ``Yogi'' Cox, an assistant coach for the Pilots last year, at one time coached at Iowa and knew Smith was in need of a third baseman. Cox and Smallcomb called Smith about Conway, and by the end of the summer Iowa State had signed its first baseball player from Alaska.
``You get a kid like that and you never really know how he'll do for you,'' Smith said. ``He's pretty raw. He got off to a good start, but as soon as he got against better pitching his average went down. I don't see how he can't improve. He hasn't reached his ceiling yet as a player. He should be one of our leaders next year.''
Smith said Conway is pretty solid defensively, but he has a couple of holes in his swing so there's room for improvement as a hitter. Smith said Conway needs to work on a couple of mechanical flaws and he needs to learn to use the whole field instead of trying to pull everything. Also, when Conway started facing the better pitching in the Big 12, his hitting suffered.
``My batting average was only .250 in conference,'' Conway said. ``But playing in the Big 12, we've got five or six guys who could go in the top rounds of the baseball draft who are pitching in this conference. I think I got caught up (in the power game) and I got greedy. I think the last couple of series I was doing better, with four hits all to the right side. I have to realize I'm not Mark McGwire and I'm not going to crush the ball.''
Conway said he never pictured playing college baseball in a major NCAA Division I conference when he was younger, but he had a lot of help pursuing his dream. He said he had some solid years playing for his junior college, then had a lot of help moving to the next level from Smallcomb, who has recruited six players from Southeast Alaska in recent years.
``Coach Smallcomb is good about getting guys a place to play,'' Conway said.
Conway is a finance major who posted a 3.03 GPA this year. He was scheduled to return to the Alaska League this summer, but he decided to go to North Carolina because it's near his girlfriend's home and he wanted to see a different part of the country. Conway is eligible for this weekend's baseball draft, but doesn't think he'll be drafted because he plans to return to school to finish his degree. He's hoping he might get drafted after his senior season, when he expects to have better numbers.
``I think I learned a lot this season and I'm looking forward to next year,'' Conway said. ``I hope to be more of a leader and see if we can't get into the playoffs. I really expect to do a lot better. This has been a real good fit for me, and I came in and produced.''
Grinnell College junior Joel Cladouhos (Juneau-Douglas), a right-handed pitcher/first baseman, completed the baseball season with a team-leading .415 batting average in 41 at bats, and he posted a 1-3 record and 4.93 ERA on the mound. Cladouhos, who was the Midwest Conference-South Division Player of the Week in early May, helped the Pioneers post their first winning record in school history (18-13) and the MWC-SD title. In the MWC playoffs, Cladouhos, an economics major, hit a solo home run in a 7-2 loss to Ripon College.
Long Beach State University freshman Chad Bentz (Juneau-Douglas), a left-handed pitcher, posted an 0-2 record with an 8.59 ERA in his first season with the 49ers, who also use the nickname Dirtbags. Bentz had 22 strikeouts in 22 innings, but he also gave up 21 earned runs, 21 walks and 25 hits for Long Beach State, which posted a 31-25 record and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.
Grand Valley State University junior Josh Bentz (Juneau-Douglas), a left-handed pitcher who is the older brother of Chad, had a 2-4 record with a 4.45 ERA, with one save. Bentz had 25 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings pitched, giving up 14 earned runs, 17 hits and 24 walks for the team that posted a 32-17 record this year.
Pepperdine University redshirt freshman Jamin Soderstrom, who attended Ketchikan for three years before graduating from a school in Arizona, only saw action in three games as a back-up catcher for the Waves (36-23) this season, with no official at bats. Soderstrom was backing up an all-American catcher named Dane Sardinha, who was the conference's co-player of the year.
Two Juneau-Douglas High School graduates played for the Mendocino College Eagles; sophomore right-handed pitcher Toby Staveland and freshman third baseman Wade Walter. Staveland, who was drafted in the 44th round of last year's baseball draft, signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves after the season. Staveland posted a 3-4 record with a 3.56 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings pitched, giving up 24 earned runs, 39 walks and 60 hits. Walter hit .258 for the Eagles (18-14 this year), with 25 hits in 97 at bats, 15 runs scored and 22 RBIs. Mendocino is a junior college based in Ukiah, Calif.
Two former Juneau-Douglas High School athletes were on the roster for Oregon Institute of Technology's squad this season, junior first baseman Heidi Brown and freshman second baseman/outfielder Kara Lindley. Brown, who missed the first half of the season with an injury, wound up hitting .310 with nine hits in 29 at bats in 20 games started. Lindley hit .139 in 72 at bats, scoring 10 times as she started in 29 of her 41 games. OIT posted a 29-26 record this season.
Syracuse University sophomore Rachael Kirchhoff (Juneau-Douglas) was in the school's varsity eight crew as it took third place in the petite final (consolation final) Sunday in the NCAA Championships in Camden, N.J., which means Syracuse took ninth place overall. The grand final was for the top six boats and the petite final determined seventh through 12th places. Syracuse took third place in the third heat to open the weekend of racing on Friday, then took second place Saturday in the first repechage or second-chance race for teams that didn't advance from the initial heats. Syracuse took fifth place in the first semifinal, then third place in the petite final. It was Syracuse's first appearance in the national championships since 1997.
Oregon State University sophomore Andy Dietrick (Juneau-Douglas) will not be in the varsity eight boat when the Beavers head to the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's men's championships this weekend in Camden, N.J. Dietrick had been rowing in the varsity boat until aggravating a back injury late in the season, which dropped him into the junior varsity boat. Dietrick had hoped to move back up to the varsity boat by the IRA championships, but was still on OSU's JV crew when it took third place May 14 in the Pacific 10 Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
Dartmouth College freshman Katy Rue (Juneau-Douglas) was a member of the school's second novice (or freshman) eight crew that won the petite final by seven seconds over Rutgers in the EAWRC Sprints Regatta May 15 in New Preston, Conn.
Track and field
Western State College junior Jim Shine earned a pair of all-American honors for his performance last weekend in the NCAA Division II national championships in Raleigh, N.C. Shine, who picked up his third and fourth all-American honors of the season, took third place in the 10,000 meters with a time of 30 minutes, 28.07 seconds and added a sixth-place finish in the 5,000 meters with a time of 14:25.17. Shine earlier this year picked up all-American honors in cross-country running, as WSC won the national championships, and in indoor track.
Adams State College junior Carl Blackhurst (Haines) also earned an all-American honor at the NCAA Division II national championships, the sixth of his collegiate running career. Blackhurst took fifth place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:01.99. Blackhurst, who has been battling a bad ankle all season, took third place in the event last year and eighth place in 1997 as a freshman (he was injured and redshirted in 1998).
Wheaton College freshman Maria Eley (Juneau-Douglas) took fourth place in the 10,000 meters with a time of 41:00.15 at the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championships May 6 in Naperville, Ill. Eley missed most of the season with a leg injury and the meet was only her first of the outdoors season.
Louisiana Tech freshman Nicole Beraldi (Ketchikan) set a U.S. deadlift record of 303 pounds and claimed the national title in her division at the 2000 Collegiate National Powerlifting Championships April 15-16 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Beraldi, who competed in the 114-pound division, had a squat of 270 pounds and a bench press of 145 1/2 pounds. Beraldi's title helped Louisiana Tech claim its seventh straight women's team national title and 10th since 1984.
Golden West College freshman Derek Gibb (Petersburg) has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Aug. 9-16 in Indianapolis. Gibb qualified in the 50-meter freestyle after posting a time of 20.32 in the 50-yard freestyle during the California junior college season, narrowly missing a national junior college record in the event.
The Juneau Empire's College Corner feature will take a hiatus for the summer and will return in September. The feature appeared about twice monthly during the school year and was compiled by Juneau Empire sports reporter Charles Bingham from various college Web sites and tips from local readers. If there is a college athlete from Southeast Alaska you feel should be mentioned in the feature, either fax the information to 1-907-586-3028 (attention sports) or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.